Beginnings are important. If you start a book with an underwhelming first chapter, or a television show with a subpar first few episodes, you’re less likely to see it through to the end. The same could be said for work — people are more likely to be engaged and stay in a job where they feel prepared and appreciated from Day 1. And in a setting like education, engagement and retention are even more critical because they directly impact students.
The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) has found that successful onboarding programs incorporate four distinct levels, or building blocks, that they call “the Four C’s.”
The Four C’s are:
Compliance: Training employees on basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations
Clarification: Ensuring that employees understand their new job and expectations
Culture: Providing employees with a sense of organizational norms— both formal and informal
Connection: Fostering vital interpersonal relationships and information networks
So, what are some must-do tasks for your new hire to get started off on the right foot? We’ve organized them to align to the Four C’s, so you can be sure that all the building blocks of a successful onboarding process are covered. Not every task on our list will apply for every new employee, or every district, but this should provide a good starting point for you to compare your own process against.
Level 1: Maintaining Compliance in the Onboarding Process
First and foremost, it’s imperative that your school district protects itself and stays in compliance with applicable rules and regulations. To that end, you’ll want to make sure that required personnel forms have been completed by the new hire and securely filed with the district.
Where possible, you may want to have these tasks completed online, before the employee’s first day. Managing the compliance and administrative side of onboarding with digital document management (ahead of time) helps keep employees focused on their new job from Day 1 — and that’s a win-win for everyone. You don’t want a new teacher distracted by thoughts of direct deposit forms or W-4s while standing in front of their new classroom!
Finalize background checks
Complete required personnel forms
W-4 and state tax forms
Direct deposit forms
Provide information on perks and benefits (health insurance, retirement plans, etc.)
Enroll employee in benefits plans (if applicable)
Have new hire read and acknowledge the employee handbook
Explain emergency procedures, security policies (e.g. building access) and school safety plans
Take employee photo for their badge
Level 2: Clarifying Expectations
To set employees up for success, the basic operations of the job as well as the school and district’s expectations must be clearly communicated from the get-go. This includes both the operational (knowing where to go, or how to use district-provided technology) and the more aspirational (understanding how they will be evaluated). There may be some overlap with the “compliance” level here. For example, you’ll want to ensure that every employee is trained on your emergency procedures and school safety plans.
Tip: New staff members have to absorb a large amount of information.
Provide agenda for new-teacher orientation
Go over school and district policies
Dress code (for students and staff)
Keys and access cards
Attendance procedures (for students and staff)
Purchase requests or expense reporting
Train on school/district technology
Software used: Student information system, school administrative systems, etc.
Provide a tour of their building
School layout: classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria, lounge, office, supply room, nurse’s office etc.
Explain the organization’s approach to curriculum
Curriculum development process and expectations
Lesson plan procedures and expectations
Classroom assessment system
Review student discipline
Behavior expectations inside & outside of the classroom
Expected staff supervision outside of classroom
Referral process for students with special needs (gifted, special ed)
Lay out the employee evaluation process
Share resources and information on professional development opportunities
Level 3: Building a Shared Culture
As we’ve written before, building a positive school culture needs to start with the hiring process. It’s important that your onboarding process reflects your organization’s culture — for example, if you’re proud of your school or district’s digital initiatives in the classroom, it might be jarring for new hires to hear about online programs while going through a manual, paper-heavy onboarding process.
A positive school culture can’t be built through checklists or one-off tasks — it will always be a work-in-progress requiring participation from everyone. But, here are a few things to start with.
Distribute a welcome packet
Share your organization’s mission, vision and goals
Communicate the school and district’s values
Set expectations for collaboration and positive interpersonal interactions
Level 4: Fostering Connections
At the highest level of onboarding, relationships are key. Hopefully, your school culture values ongoing collaboration, which will make it easier for new hires to build productive relationships with their colleagues. You can help foster these connections by making introductions and helping new hires understand who they can go to with questions.
Explain the organization chart and ensure that new hires know where to find key personnel.
Their principal (of course)
Instructional coaches and facilitators
Custodians / facilities personnel
Who to contact in the central office (e.g. for questions about payroll or Human Resources)
Introduce new hires to their mentors
After the First Week
Don’t let employee onboarding end with orientation, or even after the first week. Ideally, induction processes should last for a few months — or the new hire’s first year —and segue into a retention strategy to keep the best educators in your district.
It’s also a good idea to follow up with new employees after their first month, and throughout the year, to gather their feedback. This will give you the insight you need to further refine your onboarding strategy and help future new hires succeed.
Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.